Yesterday was an odd day.
A couple of nights ago, I had a meal with my eternally-un-named friend at the home of Pull The Other One comedy club runners Vivienne and Martin Soan. The bicycle had fallen off the wall in their living room, leaving a hole in the plasterwork which they had covered with a painting of a fox-hunting scene.
Martin told me he had started playing table tennis regularly with comedian Lewis Schaffer on a concrete ping-pong table in Peckham Rye Park in South East London. The object was to get healthier through exercise.
I sent Lewis Schaffer an e-mail:
“Next time you play ping-pong with Martin, take three photos and do a random phone or tablet sound recording for half an hour maximum – just of you two chatting while you play ping pong – and I’ll transcribe it and get a joyous blog out of it.”
I thought it would be quirky to do a ‘report’ on something happening when I had not actually been present.
Yesterday morning I was in Greenwich and got a phone call from Martin at about 11.30am saying he was playing ping-pong with Lewis Schaffer in Peckham Rye Park at noon and did I want to come along.
It was a mistake.
God did not want me to.
I put my iPhone by the ping-pong net on the stone table (after checking it would pick up their voices clearly) and I let it record for about ten minutes while they exercised by playing ping-pong. The iPhone is an astonishingly good recording device. But only if it is switched on.
I had forgotten to put it on Airplane mode.
After a few seconds, without me realising, someone texted me. This switched the recording off. Lewis Schaffer and Martin had talked interestingly while they played ping-pong, discussing Lewis Schaffer’s favourite topic: Lewis Schaffer’s failure in comedy and in life. At one point, Martin lay on the table, beaten down by Lewis Schaffer’s negativity.
At some point, I re-switched on the iPhone recorder.
“I’ve got such low self esteem,” Lewis Schaffer was saying, “there’s nothing they can say to bring me down. This year, I’m going to call my Edinburgh Fringe show Lewis Schaffer: Success Is Not An Option. What was I saying?”
“I don’t know. I wasn’t listening,” I told him.
“I know,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but you gotta record it. Stand-up comedy can’t go past where I’m going, because it’s post alternative, post mainstream. It’s like two train lines crashing together.”
I said: “You used the phrase ‘where I’m going’. Isn’t that a bit optimistic?”
“No,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Where I am. Where Lewis Schaffer is. What am I doing? Is it real comedy or is it anti-comedy?”
“OK, stand-up comedy, right?…” said Martin Soan. “I’m just de-constructing this like you want to…”
“I don’t want to,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I know John likes it. I’m trying to give him what he wants… John – tell me what you want and I’ll say it. I’ll make it easier for you, John. Just say it yourself and say I said it. Nobody reads your blog when I’m in it anyway. I’m not Al Murray or Richard Herring. Is anyone interested in the stuff I have to say? What was your question, Martin Soan?”
“I’ve forgotten what I was talking about now,” said Martin. “Oh yes! Stand-up comedy in the traditional sense is telling gags with punchlines…”
“Which I do,” Lewis Schaffer said.
“…and you get a laugh at the end of it,” Martin continued.
“Which I do,” Lewis Schaffer said.
“So,” continued Martin, “take someone who’s not doing stand-up comedy but comedy – say maybe a man prat-falling or something like that. What’s funny about that? IT is funny because HE is funny. If you’ve got funny bones, you’ve got funny bones, which you have. And you’ve got gags as well. You’re just trying to find an advertising gimmick for your own…”
“No,” Lewis Schaffer interrupted. “You’re totally wrong.”
“You’ve got funny bones,” said Martin.
“I don’t have funny bones,” said Lewis Schaffer.
“You do have funny bones,” said Martin.
“I don’t have funny bones. I don’t know what that means, having…” Lewis Schaffer started to say.
“It means,” Martin interrupted, “that you’ve got… Whoa! Hey! Eeeeeehhhhh!”
Martin fell over. I think it was an accident. Maybe not.
Lewis Schaffer laughed.
We went to a cafe.
Lewis Schaffer had egg and beans on toast. I had a cup of tea. Martin Soan read the Daily Mirror. I left shortly afterwards.
Later in the day, I went to see Twonkey’s Blue Cadabra With Paul Vickers in the basement of Soho Theatre in London.
Paul Vickers is Mr Twonkey, a surrealist with lots of props and the impressive singing voice of an American rock star.
About 15 minutes before the show started, Paul came over to me and said: “I tried to persuade Lewis Schaffer to come to the show, but he said he couldn’t.”
“It overlaps with his radio show,” I said.
“I’m staying at his flat,” Paul told me.
“How long have you been there?” I asked.
“Since Saturday,” Paul told me.
“That’s too long to be with Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “It’s Monday now.”
“I know,” said Paul.
About ten minutes before the show started, I was unexpectedly joined by new wave architectural guru Blanche Cameron. I think she is stalking me. I keep bumping into her in comedy club cellars. There is no other logical explanation.
About five minutes before the show started, we were unexpectedly spotted and joined by comedian Chris Dangerfield and a very clean-looking male friend. I thought Chris must be trying to clean his image up.
“I’m going to Thailand next week to try to clean up for my Edinburgh show,” he said.
This seemed an unwise destination.
He was wearing a black fez.
“Why are you wearing a black fez?” I asked.
“I had it specially made for me,” he replied, as if this answered my question.
About 15 minutes after the show started, Lewis Schaffer came in with his entourage Heather.
After the show, Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey told me: “John, you are responsible for my sexual awakening.”
“Am I?” I said warily.
“Well,” said Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “One of my sexual awakenings was seeing Kate Bush on Pebble Mill. “But the other was seeing La Cicciolina on The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross and you booked her.”
“Did I?” I asked. “I can’t remember.”
“That had a direct effect on me,” said Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.
“Too much information,” I said.
I went home. Lewis Schaffer, Blanche Cameron and Heather went off to Tufnell Park for some reason. Blanche told me it was another basement. Chris Dangerfield and his friend went off elsewhere in Soho. They seemed quite placid, not at all argumentative, but Chris seemed to think he might get the needle later on.
When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from comedy critic Kate Copstick in Kenya. It said:
“Am mending. Meeting with the doctor tomorrow. Will tell when I can hope to fly back to Britain. Still a bit sort of generally knackered – dizzy spells and whatnot. But leg is coming along apace although letting go of either crutch is a long way off.”
But that is future blog.
Yesterday was an odd day.